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Shepherd, Perry win MLK awards

Cathelene Perry and Archie Shepherd.

Cathelene Perry and Archie Shepherd.

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Cathelene Perry won the Trailblazer Award and Archie Shepherd won the I Have A Dream Award at the recently community celebration honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

COVINGTON -- Archie Shepherd and Cathelene Perry were there for the birth of the Civil Rights movement in Newton County, and now, more than 40 years later, they are still committed to the cause.

So it's only fitting that both were honored at Sunday's community celebration in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., held at Newton High School's Porter Auditorium. Shepherd took home the I Have a Dream Award, which recognizes an individual who epitomizes the philosophy of King. Perry received the Trailblazer Award, given to someone who has forged a path for others to follow through community service.

"I've done so many things you could write a book on the things I've accomplished. I'm very appreciative for the committee to consider giving me this award, even though the things I've done, I did from my heart," said Shepherd.

Shepherd joined the Labor Movement at age 18, fighting for decent working conditions and pay for American workers, and was a board member and executive for several unions.

In 1970, he joined the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and has been a stalwart member ever since, serving as president of the organization for eight years, from 1998 to 2006. Shepherd is currently in charge of fielding all complaints of discrimination that come into the local office, and investigating for legitimacy before passing on the complaint to the appropriate agency.

"Racism is still alive and well and it's more blatant now than it ever has been," he said. "At one time, you had Klansmen with sheets over their heads, but people don't hide it now."

Shepherd said black workers facing discrimination now have less recourse, with fewer unions and an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that he said doesn't function.

"We've made a lot of progress, but we've lost it in the last four years," he said, further explaining that the election of a black president only increased racist remarks and behavior.

In addition to his work with the NAACP, Shepherd is on the board of Willing Helpers Medical Clinic and has volunteered with a literacy program.

Shepherd considers his greatest accomplishment to be obtaining early release for a felon convicted of armed robbery, whom he took into his home and helped obtain employment and turn his life around.

Shepherd also takes pride in helping numerous citizens obtain disability benefits from the Social Security Administration.

"As someone said, 'If I can help somebody while I travel this way, then my living will not be in vain,'" Shepherd said.

Perry is also a long-time member of the Newton Chapter of the NAACP. She participated in local marches to fight for equal rights and was jailed for a week following her participation in the Black Easter march in 1970.

Perry serves as second vice president of the NAACP. She has been the director of the NAACP Youth program for nearly a decade. The program provides an outlet for young people to take part in community service, learn Scripture and go on outings. Perry takes participants on trips to court and the local jail in hopes of educating them about consequences of bad behavior and hanging with the wrong crowd. Between 40 and 50 youths have graduated from the program during her tenure.

Perry is also a former volunteer with Positive PEACHES Inc., an organization that aims to reduce cases of HIV/AIDS through education. As an HIV positive woman, Perry told her life story at schools to educate students on the consequences of unprotected sex and assisted others with HIV/AIDS in getting treatment at a time, she said, when the disease was taboo.

Perry said her goal is to "promote change, love and unity" in the community.

"I was very, very surprised to get the award," Perry said. "But I know in my heart what I have done for the community and in the community and for the people that live here," she said.